Just one agricultural show is set to still go ahead in a rare win for the south-west community as uncertainty around COVID-19 claims the second show season in a row.
In years past, travelling showmen and women would have been on the road for months by now, bringing their showbags, animal nurseries and food trucks to showgrounds across the region.
But for the second year running, COVID-19 uncertainties have kept them at home, claiming the Camperdown, Colac, Coleraine, Port Fairy, Koroit, Casterton, Noorat, Dartmoor and Heytesbury shows.
A lone survivor has emerged in the Tyrendarra Agricultural Show, which is still set to go ahead on February 12. While show president Anne Burley said it was a win for the community, the overall outlook was bleak.
"We're one of the first shows coming up, we're definitely the first event let alone show in the Glenelg Shire to run for the year," she said.
"It's the one that keeps the whole community together - it gets people talking and everyone comes to it. We're up to our 104th year so it's in the fabric of small town communities and people travel to show things they love with their horses and their cakes.
"It's also where a lot of fundraising is done for the cricket clubs and schools who run sausage sizzles, so it's been a major loss for a lot of places.
"We've found committees are ageing and trying to get new people to come on board and take over roles is just really hard.
"There will be quite a few shows which will also fold from limited funding. Small shows aren't profit making - they run year-to-year from funds for entertainment, so there will be a lot who will fold from lack of funds and also committees ageing."
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Ms Burley said Tyrendarra's show would not have been possible without multiple rounds of government funding.
"We have applied and been successful for the Victorian Agricultural and Pastoral Show grant and we will be applying for a second round of federal funding," she said.
"The latest funding goes directly to people who are in the showmen's guild who are the people who travel all around Australia and go to shows and obviously they haven't been able to do their business for the last two years so they're struggling.
"They're putting some funding through for them to travel because petrol prices are horrendous and if you haven't been making money for the past two years on your business, it's a big ask to start it all again."
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said he would be working with the Victorian Showmen's Guild to administer up to $7.8 million in payments to relieve rental costs for travelling show people, including $500,000 for operational costs.
"The last two years have been tough for many of us but travelling businesses who visit agricultural shows have been hit very hard," he said.
"Because of the restrictions from COVID-19, many showmen and women have been completely deprived of their main source of income.
"These grants will help travelling showmen and women - often small, independent sole-trader or family-based operations - cover parts of their operational costs through support for guild membership fees and showground rental relief.
"Thanks to this program, travelling showmen and women will be supported to continue to provide the entertainment and amusements often featured at our agricultural shows."
Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said agricultural shows were important.
"Agricultural shows attribute up to 75 percent of their ticket sales to the attractions that travelling show businesses provide," he said.
"These events are estimated to contribute over $1 billion to the Australian economy, attract over six million patrons and enlist 50,000 volunteers each year.
"But more than that, agricultural shows are a great day out for regional Australians where distance, drought, bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic have made life more difficult."
Ms Burley said any funding would go a long way.
"The majority of show entries are set at a very low price and that's part of the community-run thing, getting people together," she said.
"They're not there for the profit, they're there for the community and enjoyment purposes. I don't think ours has raised entry fees for four or five years.
"But the cost of providing entertainment like the animal nurseries, you have to pay for that to come in and that's an upfront cost.
"You've then got your promotion and we have people who not just come from the local area, we have people coming from Warrnambool, Mount Gambier and Colac so we have a big catchment of people and we have to advertise and try to get tourists in too.
"So the upfront cost of running a show is quite large before you even get people coming in the gate and on top of that there's the problem of ageing infrastructure. We've used some of our funding we received to fix the doors which had become an issue.
"If you haven't run in a couple of years, double that down with committee issues and that becomes a bigger issue."
Heytesbury show spokeswoman Linda White said running an event this year was made impossible with the number of logistical issues faced.
"We cancelled last year's show and we made the decision in about September or October to cancel this year's because we didn't know what was going to happen," Ms White said.
"There's so much planning that goes into agricultural shows which some people don't realise, we start planning as soon as one show finishes.
"So to put the work in if you're not sure if you can run the event or not is pretty hard. This year there are so many rules and regulations that keep changing, we just felt we didn't have the manpower which was another issue with a lot of agricultural shows.
"It was really disappointing to have to cancel a community event like that, we have ours in Simpson and it's the main community event of the year.
"But we have decided to run a cattle show, our cattle committee were really keen to run that and forge ahead, doing it on a smaller scale rather than full-blown show.
"There won't be any entry fees charged on the day into the show."
She said it had been a tough two years for many organisers.
"I don't think we've had any shows really go ahead in the last two years in our region," she said.
"Some have gone virtual but again we've decided to cancel it and with things transpiring at the moment we're looking back and are relieved we didn't put the effort in because you just don't know what's around the corner.
"You could have everything setup on a Thursday or a Friday and then be told 'no you can't run the show', something like that would be devastating and very costly to cover and we don't have a huge budget for our show.
"We do the best we can with what we've got and to lose all of our finances on one show would be devastating.
"I think when we cancelled our 2021 show people were extremely disappointed but we've got to the stage where we just understand sometimes these things happen in this day and age and we just move on and look forward to the next show.
"We think with things settling down more, hopefully in 2023 we'll bounce back, so we'll start the planning for our show in June and July. We'll be getting the planning underway for March next year."
Some modified shows are still planning to go ahead, including:
Heytesbury Cattle and Pavillion: February 26
Colac Horse Show: March 5-6
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